Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the highlights of my childhood was reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.  If you're not familiar with them, they are books where you are asked at intervals to decide what direction the story will take.  At the bottom of the page, you're asked a question, and depending on your answer, you turn to a certain page number to continue reading.

There are two wonderful things about Choose Your Own Adventure books:  (1) you are in control of where the story goes; and (2) you can read the book over and over and it will be a new and different experience every time (until you run out of story lines).

So Many Choices

The awesome thing about our online maker community, is that you can participate on whatever level you choose.  In essence, you can choose your own adventure here.  There are an overwhelming array of venues and technologies you can use to connect with other makers:

- write a blog
- read blogs
- pinterest
- twitter
- flickr
- facebook
- ravelry
- forums like craftster and crochetville
- and a bunch more (add ones I missed in the comments!)

I see (and hear about) a lot of disatisfaction in these venues.  People saying they *should* blog more, or *should* post more pictures, or *wishing* they didn't drag their feet when it comes to X, Y, or Z.  Sometimes we all have valid gripes.  Who couldn't use more time, money, and talent?  But when I hear the word "should" alarm bells ring.

Blogging isn't for everyone.  Facebook isn't for everyone.  Twitter isn't for everyone.  Maybe the reason you're disatisfied with your level of involvement is because you are trying to fit your creative circle peg in a square hole.  Everyone's needs and desires are different.  Just because Person A's creativity exploded into a sky full of fireworks when they started a blog doesn't mean that it will do the same for you.

Maybe you're more of a Flickr person.  Maybe you're a tweeter.  Maybe you're a lurker.  I say, embrace the avenues online that encourage, support, inspire, and ultimately make you feel good about your level of involvement.  I say, whatever you choose to do is A-OK.

Things Change

Also, keep in mind that your creative needs and desires will change over time.  When I first discovered feed readers (like Google Reader and Bloglines) I subscribed to EVERY blog I stumbled across.  I ended up with hundreds of subscriptions.  I found checking them everyday was a joy.

But years later, I saw all those subscriptions as a diversion, a chore, and the opposite of inspiring.  I had much less free time and keeping track of all those people and projects where keeping me from taking the time I needed to find my own inspiration and complete my own projects.  I was also comparing my seemingly tiny crafty output to *everyone else's* crafty output.  I'd finish one project and my feed reader would show me 85 even cooler finished projects.  It became disheartening.

I ended up deleteing all my subscriptions except for those of my very best blog-friends.  My extra blog surfing came in the form of visiting my commenter's blog.  Other than that, I didn't get out into the crafty world much.  I focused my energy where it was needed most, creating.

Feeling Good Is Different Than Being Comfortable

Feel like I should add a little disclaimer here.  I don't want to come accross as saying you should never be uncomfortable or push your boundaries.  Being uncomfortable and pushing your boundaries is a great way to grow as a creative person.  I never ever in a million years thought I'd have a blog. Never. Ever. Even after I started my blog, I would argue that it wasn't a blog.  I was *so* uncomfortable when I first started it, and frankly, it sorta stank, especially the photos.  

But after giving it a go, I found that it had a ton of positive side effects for me: I finished projects more often; I took more risks in my projects; I *loved* getting feedback that from people who *got* what I was doing.  I was growing as a creative person!

So, this is the disclaimer:  You should feel good about your level of involvement in the craft community, but you shouldn't necessarily feel comfortable with it, creatively speaking.

Tell Me About Your Experience Online

I'm curious about your experience in the online creative community. What venues work for you?  Why?  What venues don't work for you?  Why?  Have you changed your online habits over time?  What made you change?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Fractured - Body Update

Decided to stick with one project until it's done.  I picked Fractured.
I don't think I mentioned this before, but I had to start ALL OVER.

I know I said in my last fractured post that it fit ... but once I got another inch or so of body done, I realized it was WAAAAAY too big.  I'd made an assumption about stockinette-gauge as it relates to dragonfly-pattern-gauge.

As luck would have it, half of a MFing sweater is a pretty fantastic gauge swatch.  I did some measuring, I frogged that sucker, and now I'm making the exact right size.  And, since I'm knitting about 2/3rds of the sweater I was knitting before, it's going a lot faster.

Woohoo, sweater!  It's pretty warm for being 100% cotton, too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slightly Sinister Easter Eggs

I originally designed the Bad Eggs around Easter of 2006 as a set of four in black eggs with embroidered designs.  I was bristling at the deluge of Easter crap everywhere more than a month before Easter.  I needed an antidote to all the pastels.

When I saw a call-for-entries from The Anticraft, I updated the idea to be more subversive ... traditionally-colored eggs with non-traditional imagery.  They liked the idea so much, my Bad Eggs were included in the Anticraft  book (not an affiliate link).

The bonus is that they have now posted the Bad Eggs pattern PDF on their site.  Make some and tuck them into your favorite imp's Easter basket.

Here are the four designs you have to chose from ...

Look at that squirting arterial blood!  I can't tell you how much I love that decapitated bunny.  It warms my heart.  I couldn't be happier about how it turned out.  The white-on-white embroidery outlining his leg doesn't photograph well, but it looks good in person.  His tail is a bunch of floss loops making a 3-D puff.

Ahhhh ... a cute chick with a taste for eyes.  Chirp!  The eyes filling the basket are made with a tiny sequin and a black seed bead ... and embroidered eyelashes.  I do realize that if a chick was digging the eyeballs out of peoples' heads and collecting them in a basket that they wouldn't still have eyelashes, but I think that makes it all the more creepy. :)  It totally oogs me out that the chick is holding an eye by the optic nerve.

The other two eggs in the Bad Eggs set are based on the original designs.  One is embroidered with 360° flames and the other has evil eyes on each side in alternating warm and cool colors.

Certainly, you could make non-snarky Easter eggs with the pattern ... but why would you? ;)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jacket Cuffs

Used my crafty skillz to do something practical.  Andrew had a jacket with too-long sleeves.  A little bit of sewing machine and a little bit of hand-burying the threads and ta-da! the jacket is just right.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Inspiration - Joshua Tree National Park

I visited Joshua Tree National Park again in February.  As always, it's a delightful and beautiful place.  Spending time in the quietness of the desert is profoundly calming.  It's quite humbling as well, when you consider that the rocks and boulders surrounding you were formed, transformed, and exposed over millions of years.

Of course I took normal touristy photos, the likes of which you can see by doing a google image search for "Joshua Tree National Forest," but what I'm going to share with you today are my favorite up-close shots of the textures, colors, and details of my desert vacation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Developing Skill

image attribution: / CC BY-SA 2.0

(This post was originally published on the now-defunct  "Make & Meaning" blog.)

When I think of the word craftsmanship, it evokes thoughtfulness, confidence, a commitment to doing things well, and skill.  Of those things, the only one that you definitely can't have out of the gate is skill.  No one is born an expert on a given craft or trade.  Even when you have years of doing something under your belt, there is still usually more to learn and explore.  

For me, skill comes with:
· Time
· Practice
· Experimenting
· Learning
· Allowing yourself to make mistakes

Even though these are interconnected ideas, each has its own value ...

image attribution: / CC BY 2.0


You aren't going to become skilled overnight.  Allow yourself time to acquire the knowledge you need to do something well.  I'm super-impatient, but I've learned that if I ignore the voice in my head that keeps repeating, "Have you figured it out yet? How about now?  Really, what's taking so long?" and I just float along the path where ever it may lead, that I eventually have that moment where I can say, "Yes!  Now I can do it!"

I'm making myself sound a lot more Zen than I am, what with my "paths" and "floating" and everything.  The reality for me is that when I'm learning a skill, particularly a difficult one, I will work on it in spurts ... usually because I've gotten so cross-eyed with frustration that I just can't take anymore. With all the starting and stopping, giving myself time to learn is key.

Don't set an artificial time limit for yourself.  It's quite possible that you might never run out of new things to learn.  Your timeline might be life-long.  Just think about embroidery for example.  Not only are there hundreds of stitches you could master, but there are cultural motifs and techniques to explore, a mind-boggling array of tools and materials to use, and the journey to find your own unique style.


There are two wonderful aspects to practice.  

First, practice is a repetition that helps you incorporate a movement or ability into yourself; make it a part of you.  Athletes, actors, dancers, musicians ... all of these skilled people practice.  A lot.  Why not give yourself the time to practice your craft.  Give yourself projects that aren't about making something, but purely about practicing.

Sometimes, in between crochet projects, I'll just grab a skein of yarn and a hook and I'll just make a big block of single crochet.  Or a circle.  Or whatever.  I don't have any project in mind.  I'm not testing things out or experimenting.  I'm just enjoying the process of holding my crochet hook and making little loops.  I'm creating a sense-memory of what crocheting feels like.

The second wonderful aspect of practice is that when you're practicing, it's not "for real" so there isn't the pressure of perfection.  Let's say you've decided to learn wood carving.  If you decide your first piece is going to be a figurine of your cat and it turns out to look more like a hedgehog-horse hybrid, it could be very discouraging because you failed to do what you set out to do.  

But if you made that same other-worldly, animal-monster when you were "just practicing" you might see that you've done a great job using your V-Gouge to create a wonderful spiny body.  That's the beauty of practicing.  When you don't expect specific results, you're open trying new things and to seeing the good parts of what you created.


As a process-focused crafter, I'm all about the details.  At each step of the project, I look at my technique and think to myself, "Is there another way to do this?"  I'm not even looking for a *better* way, necessarily.  I'm just exploring the width, breadth, and limits of my chosen craft.  I like to call this experimenting.

When I was learning to do the foundation single crochet (fsc), I found some conflicting instructions on how to start the stitch.  I decided I was going to figure out what I thought looked best.  I made a series of fsc rows starting off in every different way I could think of.  I ended up with eight samples.  I examined each of the samples and determined which one looked most like a normal row of chains and single crochet.

The awesome thing about this experiment is that I now have a detailed understanding of fsc.  I also have photos to reference if I decide to do something different with fsc where the starting stitch should have a different look.  In this instance, experimenting greatly increased my knowledge of crochet and definitely added to my skill.


My first instinct is to try and figure everything out myself.  But that's not always the best or easiest way to learn something.  It's silly to use your energy and time mastering a skill on your own when you can more easily learn from someone else who has already blazed that path.  Especially at the beginning of your skill journey, it's good to have help when you're learning.

The ability to learn a new craft has taken on epic proportions with the introduction of the internet.  Before, you were limited to books and the occasional face-to-face teacher.  Now you are a quick internet search away from a sea of blogs, tutorials, videos, and e-books on almost any skill imaginable.  Not only that, but you can probably even find someone you can email directly to ask for help if you can't find the exact information you're looking for.  Take advantage of all the resources at your disposal!

Allowing Yourself To Make Mistakes

I recently saw a job posting where the company said, "We like mistakes, and hope that you've made some big ones."  At first, I thought it was just more of the cheesy baloney you find in most job postings.  But the more I thought about it, the cooler I thought that was.  They want you to be doing big things, always be learning, and unafraid of messing up the first (or second, or third ... ) time you try something.  They understand that by taking risks, you're going to learn a whole lot more than if you just stick to what you already know.  And, sometimes, your risks are going to faceplant.

Do you know what's funny?  Sometimes when I do something the first time and it works, I'm actually skeptical.  I'll do that thing a couple other times a different way, just so I'll fail and mess it up.  Sometimes that the only way I trust that I really, truly figured something out.  It's my own version of the Winston Churchill quote about Americans, "You can always count on Americans Alice to do the right thing – after she’s tried everything else."

I get lots of emails from people asking advice about sewing and crochet projects.  They aren't sure what kind of thread would work best, or which crochet stitch would look right.  My answer always includes encouragement to try it out all the options and see what works.  It's important to remember not to take failures personally.  They are just a learning experience.  And, sometimes, your failures will actually turn out to be successes of a completely different kind.

How do YOU develop skill?

I'm sure I've left out some great tips for developing skill.  How do you approach becoming good at a new craft?  Do you have any advice for those just starting out?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Golden Sunset

When I spend over a year on a project  (however intermittent) I get a little attached to it ...

... to having it around.

... to touching the pile of waiting yarn.  

... to checking off the rows as I knit them.

... to frogging and reknitting and frogging and rereknitting.

I will miss this little chart.

Golden is almost here.  I might even be wearing it as you read this.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Valentine's Day Crochet

It's that time of year again!
For any of you that like to do schmoopy things around Valentine's Day, my Crochet Heart Scarf is a quick project that is also cute!

If you're not interested in a scarf, be creative like Silvermoon-dragon (ravelry account required to view link) who added a mesh back to the motifs and created adorable fingerless gloves.  Let your imagination run wild!

Wanna take a peek into my design process?  You can see a series of my prototypes that I posted last year.  It was quite an adventure getting to this design.

Big hugs, everyone!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cabled Pillow

Here's the big reveal of the project I made with the fantastic cable pattern I found on Ravelry.  A purple pillow!

I truely love these cables.  They are fantastic to knit and look wonderful.

For the backside of the pillow, echoed the stripes from my first knit sweater.

The pillow was a Christmas gift to the ever-wonderful Pam from Gingerbread Snowflakes.  She is such a great source of positivity and inspiration in the world and I wanted to do something extra nice for her.

I also included a matching ornament made from the same yarn and plastic canvas that I cut into a heart.  The choice of plastic canvas is a nod to Pam's daughter, Diane of Crafty Pod who is a plastic canvas evangelist and inspired me with this ornament post.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Golden Edges

This weekend I decided to tackle the edges of Golden.  I really, really really wanted to do an interlock bind off.  It's my absolute favorite bind off.  

The problem is that for the interlock bind off, you need a tail of yarn that is 3 times longer than your edge.  Well, for Golden, the edge is looOOOOOooong and that would never work.  Not only would it be too hard to guess how long to make the tail, but by the time I sewed up the edge, the yarn tail would be a tattered mess.

I've been putting this conundrum off  since October.  I really want to wear this sweater, so it was time to figure out what to do.  I pulled out my copy of Cast On Bind Off (which isn't as detail oriented as I'd prefer, honestly) and started trying out stretchy bind offs in search for one that would work.

I didn't like any of them.  None.  But I noticed when I tried the Purl Two Together Bind Off (aka Russian Lace Bind Off) that the edge looked perfect with the garter stitch edging.  I decided to try it as long as I stretched the purl stitch each time to loosen up the bind off.

I stretched each stitch to about double the diameter of the knitting needle.  To complete the bind off, I slip the stitch back onto the left needle, then purl two together.

I might have been able to accomplish this by using a big right needle, but I decided to "zen" it and just stretch the stitches.  I can't be a robot all the time. ;)

See?  An almost invisible edge!  The purl bumps blend right in with the garter stitch.

Here's the back of this stitch.  It's a neat looking chained edge.

By stretching the stitch a little, I was adding a little extra yarn into the stitch.  The extra yarn made the edge buckle and ruffle a little, which was a little worrying, but I thought that maybe a little blocking would solve that issue.

I did a quick wet blocking of just the edge.  Once this bad boy dried, the edge looked perfect!

Oh!  I just remembered.  Around the neck, from raglan edge to raglan edge, I did the bind off normally with non-stretched stitches.  I wanted the bind off to be tight and secure around the neck so it wouldn't get pulled out of shape by the weight of the sweater.  By doing that, the edge was super-neat already and didn't require blocking at all.

I'm not done yet, though.  This is such a substantial sweater that short sleeves just don't look right.  It's only sport-weight yarn, but those big loose wings at the front add a lot of bulk.  Long sleeves will look much better on this sweater.  Sleeves are fast, though.  Soon!